Senator given two weeks to clear up mobile invoice row
SENATOR Ivor Callely has been given two weeks to explain to a Seanad inquiry why he submitted mobile phone invoices from a closed- down company.
It came as senior Fianna Fail sources indicated Taoiseach Brian Cowen would prefer a garda investigation to take the initiative ahead of his party's internal probe into the expenses scandal.
Mr Cowen is said to be "sick to the back teeth" with the Callely affair and would like a garda investigation to sort it out.
But the Seanad committee on members' interests is pressing ahead with its own investigation after obtaining legal advice that there was no risk of it clashing with a garda investigation.
Last night, it told Mr Callely he had to respond with a formal statement by 10am on August 23. It is also planning to seek all relevant records of Mr Callely's expense claims from the Oireachtas Commission.
Fianna Fail senator Denis O'Donovan said last night that the committee was moving as quickly as possible with its investigation -- but had to follow due process by giving the four senators concerned two weeks to respond.
"It's very easy for a committee to end up in the High Court or Supreme Court. We want so far as possible to avoid anything that might bring about that sort of response. We have to be fair," he said.
It is understood Mr Callely's solicitor sent the committee a letter informing them that he had paid back the €2,879.45 he received for the expense claims and a copy of the refund cheque.
The committee also received a copy of his recent statement where he said the expenses claims were submitted in the belief they were correct but he now accepted they should not have been made.
Committee member Joe O'Toole said the committee's investigation was taking place under the Ethics in Public Office legislation, which in no way would replace or usurp the criminal law or the role of gardai.
"It would be a mistake for anybody to feel they can hide behind what we are doing," he said.
There were fears the Seanad committee could not investigate some of the expenses claims incurred when Mr Callely was a junior minister. It decided it could investigate all claims because he was a senator when he actually submitted them in 2007.
The committee has also given the same August 23 deadline to two other Fianna Fail senators, Larry Butler and Ann Ormonde, who are facing an investigation into complaints that they allegedly claimed travel allowances for addresses not listed as their official residences.
And a fourth senator, Ronan Mullen, will also have to respond to a complaint made about his refusal to disclose the name of a politician who allegedly told him he could claim his travel expenses from farther away than his actual address.
The committee found that Fianna Fail senator Denis O'Donovan had no conflict of interest during its investigation last month into Mr Callely's claim of €81,000 in travel expenses from his west Cork holiday home. This was in response to revelations that Mr O'Donovan's legal firm had acted for Mr Callely in the purchase of the home.
Fianna Fail began its own internal investigation last night by holding the first meeting of its sub-committee at party headquarters on Mount Street in Dublin. It is composed of five members of the Fianna Fail national executive and an independent chairperson, who is not a party member.
According to a party source, the committee discussed the preliminaries of its investigation and agreed to invite Mr Callely to appear before it "in due course". It is expected to call Mr Callely to appear before it and to have its report ready for the national executive's next meeting next month.
But senior sources in Fianna Fail said a garda inquiry would be the party's choice ahead of its own internal probe.
They added the committee is likely to recommend that Callely is expelled from the party.
"We can do nothing, we can suspend him for a finite period of time or we can expel him from the party," the source told the Irish Independent.
"The latter is the most likely course."
Green Party senator Dan Boyle agreed at the start of the yesterday's five-and-a-half-hour meeting to absent him from the investigation due to the fact that he could have been accused of pre-judging the issue in his public comments.
He had called on Mr Callely to consider his position in the Seanad. This could have required the Seanad to nominate a full replacement and held up the investigation till it returned at the end of next month. But the committee agreed that it could allow Green Party senator Mark Deary to act as a "substitute" for Mr Boyle.